“Are we trying to get customers?”
“We don’t care.”
I’ve developed a habit of depending on Fred-and-Carrie-as-themselves scenes to anchor my Portlandia viewing this season, and with the exception of a small sketch where they try to be full-time Etsy sellers, Friday’s episode was more character-heavy than usual. But I learned that, despite my hesitance toward dealing with the humor of Pitchfork, Kickstarter campaigns, and urbanites too wealthy to need real jobs, I don’t need the normalcy of Fred and Carrie’s coffee shop chats to feel grounded amongst all these stereotypes of entitlement. There was a certain bravery to what Portlandia decided to skewer this week as it mined closer and closer to the gooey core of all these cool-kid subcultures, and it entertains as much as it stings for any self-promotional internet dweller.
“Cat Nap” follows a two-man band named The Nap who, faced with the vast competition of the indie music world and the gimmicks of successful bands like having way too many bandmates (Polyphonic Spree), singing in a “made-up language” (Sigur Rós), and pretending to be siblings (“Please, we all know who did that,” Carrie’s character says), decide to incorporate their cat Kevin into their music making. Rebranded as Catnap, the band hits the viral circuit until they wind up on Pitchfork, where they are touted with max ironic genius as “The Purrfect Band” until they are kidnapped by an armed Catnap fanatic named Gathy (Kristen Wiig). The band saves themselves by including Gathy and her gun as part of their act and renaming again as Catnapped.
Wiig brought a fun creepiness to Gathy, but the main plot was mostly overshadowed by some of the smaller sketches. The opening scene with Carrie and guest star Miranda July as owners of the tiny and expensive clothing boutique “Two Girls Two Shirts” brought back the quick mocking cleverness of last season’s “Put A Bird On It” the way it straddles the line between a faux-pretentious performance art and music video. After Carrie’s character suggests they sell more than two things, Miranda July responds with “When I lived in New York, the only stores that had a lot of items were like Costco.”
The episode sagged a little bit in the “Smooth Movers” sketch, where Fred and Carrie play movers who only use a tiny trailer attached to a bicycle – a good setup that was stretched out to almost four minutes. There was also another appearance by Toni and Candace at Women & Women First, this time to taunt their new intern (played by Amber Tamblyn) after she tries to reorganize the books according to author name. The Feminist Bookstore ladies had more funny details than the Smooth Movers (genre categories like “Political Cartoons: Lady Artists,” “Softball 1980-1989,” and “Queer Horror”), but they couldn’t compete with the aggressiveness of some other sketches like the “She’s Makin’ Jewelry Now” song, which followed up the “Put A Bird On It” theme with another quirky DIY ditty that hails work-at-home Etsyism with living the ultimate dream of selling handmade necklaces at $200 a pop, only to drown in the stress of all the customer service that comes with it.
Another strong sketch (and my favorite of the episode) was the Kickstarter spoof with Carrie as musician Jayde (of “jayde speaks SEVYN”) and Fred as her aloof music video director Gahvin Quin. It integrated so much Kickstarter absurdities – everything from the 24:31 campaign video length and Catnap ads tying in with the main sketch to the gifts of half a single-play song download or “set visit” based on the donation amount. Jayde’s father ends up shelling out the full $25K and follows it up with a brief “Please call your mom sometime” note. It’s as irritating as it is a painful truth in an age when the definition of “charity” extends from real-life struggles to pampered musicians who insist on lowercasing their names. So we learn that the key to artistic success may just hinge on having rich, indulgent parents and knowing how to milk them, or better yet, convincing someone who does that you’re a genius video director who needs $25,000 to make them a star.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.